The Dawning Golden Age of Digital CCGs


#1

The Hex and Hearthstone threads keep going on tangents about other games, so for the benefit of those who are interested in the genre but may not follow those threads, let's centralize discussion of the digital CCG genre as a whole, how the titles compare to one another, and any new or noteworthy ones that may arise.

Personally, I couldn't be happier with the turnaround over the past year. As recently as early 2013, the genre seemed pretty moribund, defined by a couple niche titles like PoxNora limping along toward irrelevancy, MTGO doing its own thing simultaneously bolstered and held back by rigorous adherence to the physical game, and a bunch of shallow and predatory f2p "card battlers" on mobile platforms. Now, there's an embarrassment of riches, with no less than five games live or in reasonably complete early access that are polished and well-designed enough to keep me coming back and hopping between them, and several more in the pipeline.

The Frontrunners (as determined completely unscientifically by the ones I keep coming back to play on a regular basis).

  • Hex: Shards of Fate: From the makers of the WoWTCG. The rules skeleton could be described as Magic 2.0 plus card permanence across all zones and a massive design space for cards that would be impossible or clunky in a paper game but work perfectly with a computer doing the bookkeeping. The only one to keep the concept of instant-speed effects to keep the opponent guessing about whether you can interrupt their turn. Also plans a whole extensive PvE MMO side.
  • Hearthstone: From Blizzard. Easily the biggest name recognition so far due to the Warcraft theme and Blizzard's reach. Great accessibility, presentation, and polish.
  • SolForge: From the makers of Ascension. The big innovation is the removal of any sort of mana/resource system, replaced with cards that level up when played to become stronger next time around, making for choices of whether to strengthen position now or develop a late-bloomer.
  • Infinity Wars: From previous unknowns. Uses a WEGO simultaneous turn system that leads to lots of satisfying attempts to outguess which zones the opponent's troops will be in. Also has "commanders" that start in play, letting you build decks with a guarantee of having access to particular card effects. Use invite code DB4BF if you decide to try it.
  • Might & Magic Duel of Champions: From Ubisoft. A 4x2 battle grid for each player with the ability to target rows and columns leads to satisfying positional tactics. The harbinger of the current resurgence, it was the first out the gate in early 2013, and actually relaunched just today with Base Set 2.0 and a bunch of improvements.

I can vouch for every one of these as worthwhile in their own regard, with unique strengths and active communities. Feel free to drop me a line in-game or on Steam if you want some help getting started in any of them.

Others (some of these might be good, but I don't have significant experience with them and many aren't out yet)

  • Scrolls: Mixes a CCG with battlefield tactics. Single-purchase model with all cards acquired through play rather than booster packs, but the reception at launch was pretty muted.
  • Faeria: Also has a tactical map and single-purchase model. Nice soothing art. Never been anyone online in the current beta when I've tried to check it out.
  • Conquest of Champions: The next project from the makers of PoxNora. Based on a tactical map that apparently takes place on the side of a barrel, with 20% of the field needing to be rotated into view. I'm concerned by the mechanic of leveling up cards between matches with spare cards and materials, as it could easily become a P2W grind on top of just acquiring cards.
  • Alteil Horizons: Modernization and relaunch of a game that held a devoted community for 10 years, which is a solid sign. One unique aspect is being able to choose any card form a spellbook rather than drawing from a deck, with randomness instead coming from targeting and damage.
  • Chromancer: Big concept is the ability to destroy the opponent's core deck/graveyard/resource capabilities rather than an abstract life total. Lots of big talk and ideas, but some warning signs and a sense of indie entitlement.

I'll add more links to this first post over time to help people looking for something to play. One nice thing is that most of them are free to try, and give a starter and enough of a trickle of new cards to get a sense of whether they're for you before getting to the point of needing to buy cards.


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#2

I bought the $50 Hex pre-order, but after watching some games and reading about it's alpha state I haven't even bothered to install it yet. Is it working well enough to play now?


#3

In the case of faeria- they semi-shutdown the beta to rework things/add features/wait for Greenlight (they just got approved)

Faeria is really good when you find someone to play it.


#4

Yes. The client is quite stable now, all the cards from the initial set are implemented, and the game is very enjoyable. I'd say that I encounter problems in less than 5% of the games I play. They plan to shift from alpha to closed beta in the very near future, so this is the last chance to do free phantom drafts or try decks with the whole set 1 unlocked rather before we have to start building up our collections from scratch. In particular, drafts are a ton of fun.

Alstein, good to know about Faeria. The few single-player missions I played were certainly intriguing enough for me to want to play more.


#5

Oh man, I can't believe you made this thread! I love me some CCG-type games(actually own Ascension, and like 3 different Fantasy Flight LCGs), but I have no friends who like to play them, and not much time to plan an afternoon to meet up etc. Hearthstone's good, but sometimes it leaves me wanting something deeper. Currently downloading all of these(except Hex, I want to wait til that's pretty much done). Down the rabbit hole.


#6

So many games, so little time. I'm a slacker backer of Hex but haven't really gotten into it since I'm mostly spending my time trying to keep up on things in Hearthstone and SolForge (the latter having set 2 just released). Then again, it's the PvE part of Hex I found the most interesting, so I'm likely to wait for that before dipping into it.

One tidbit about SolForge is that is was co-designed by Richard Garfield (creator of MtG), and one of team, Brian Kibler, also co-designed WoWTCG. It should also be mentioned that Cryptozoic didn't originally design WoWTCG, but published it from 2010-2013 (it was originally published by Upper Deck from 2005-2010).


#7

How is Infinity Wars? I'm intrigued by the concept of a We Go card game.


#8

Infinity Wars first impressions:

It lacks the polish of Hearthstone, in particular when you use abilities against cards isn't shown in any way in the interface. In fact the entire visual interface could be prettier. But artistically, I like a lot the "animated cards" they use.
Tactically speaking, it's an interesting game. The We Go system affect less than I thought at first, but it gives a new a twist to the game, having to guess or bet if the enemy is going to focus on offense and defense. There are support, offense and defense areas in the board, and you can move cards each turn around. Cards usually start the battle in the support zone. You can guess how some cards have special effects playing around this concept of zones.

Players have both health (100 points) and morale, and they lose when one of the two reach 0. When a creature you own die, you lose x morale for it, and there are cards that are "cheap" in resources but more expensive in morale if they die, so it's a tradeoff.

Cards have health and attack, so nothing unusual there. The resource system is like Hearthstone, automatic +1 resource each turn.

Finally, the game have "reward of the day", reward for levelling up the account, and rewards for specific quests/achievements, so at least at first you progress at a good pace.


#9

It should also also be mentioned (Nerd Pedantry C-c-combo Breaker!) that this wasn't a handoff to new designers. Upper Deck was melting down due to problems with the executives and losses in the sports card side of the company, but WoWTCG was still popular. So Cryptozoic was founded as a startup specifically to take over the game -- some of the people came from Blizzard or other companies, but the bulk of the company at its founding was just a straight rehiring of the WoWTCG design and support team from Upper Deck.

Glad you're liking it! "Lacks the polish of Hearthstone" will be a pretty much universal descriptor for all of these, as that's one element that Blizzard does better than anyone else. I think you'll find some additional wrinkles to the WEGO system as you play more. It's not just a matter of guessing what zones the opponent's troops will be in, but what order they will be in as well. For example, if you put your Feaster of the Dead at the front of your defense zone, it can munch through a whole line of cannon fodder, getting bigger with each kill, and then kill the enemy's Tusked Behemoth too. But if they put the Behemoth in the front of their assault zone, it will kill the Feaster, so maybe it's better to put something small in front to absorb that hit. But then if you do that and he doesn't lead with the big unit, the Feaster will miss out on a meal... but killing something small with an Infectious Zombie instead might be better anyway because then it will rise as a zombie under your control... and what if he plays an ability that affects the combat... and so on for a bunch of different potential card interactions.

My name on there is also Thraeg, so hit me up if you ever want to play.


#10

Yeah, I noticed the combat is resolved from left to right. What I still haven't seen is a match where a player is killed by morale, instead of the normal death by 0 health. I suppose there are cards that also attack morale and it's possible doing a deck around that concept.


#11

Yeah, death through fortress destruction is definitely more common. Morale makes sure the game ends in a reasonable amount of time even if the battle is evenly matched with lots of troops dying but nobody getting through. But yeah, it happens more often with decks that are designed for it. The Descendants of the Dragon faction is particularly good at it, since they have a lot of strong defensive cards, as well as ways to bleed the opponent's morale directly.


#12

Possibly overkill, or detracts from the point of the thread, but a blurb about the business model of each (ie., how much out of pocket you'll need to pay to play at a casual, moderate, "I'm Richard Garfield" levels) would be handy. I know you can get by pretty well in Hearthstone without a massive buy-in, and Duel of Champions at least at one point you could work up to the starter box pretty much via in-game playing.


#13

Listening for good ideas here, still missing ChronX...


#14

It's worth noting that with the Base Set 2.0 release this past week, MMDoC also completely rebalanced their economic model. It remains to be seen whether the new one is "better" or "worse" than the old, both as a player who wants the fullest experience for the lowest possible cost and as a revenue generating system for a game that is absolutely good enough to deserve some revenue. Even with the UI and system revisions in the 2.0 release, it's still not nearly as polished as Hearthstone, not to mention how well the Hearthstone draft system is put together. It's a bit of a shame, because as a game, I prefer it to Hearthstone in every way - actually, I think that the actual gameplay of Hearthstone is by far the weakest on the market right now, but I'd rather not rant too much about what I don't like when there's so much out there that I do.

I haven't played too much SolForge yet, but they were giving away codes for free drafts at PAX East today and I grabbed a couple, so I'll probably spend some more time with it next week. I'm also watching the progression of Hex very eagerly; I'm not super interested in beta testing it, but from the coverage I've seen I'm really eager to see how it develops. Partially because I do really think keeping the interaction provided by instant-speed effects is a huge part of giving these games a sufficiently interesting amount of player strategy.


#15

I wish they would do a Kickstarter and just update it even if it was done a la LCG style.

I also like to see Netrunner online


#16

That would be so good. One can only hope they are working on that.


#17

No, that’s entirely germane, and exactly the sort of cross-game contrast I was hoping this thread would provide a good home for. It’s generally good to play limited formats as much as possible when starting out, since you don’t have to worry about the opponent’s bigger collection. I also find that it works well to rotate between them rather than grinding away at the same game, as the rate of advancement often drops off steeply if you’re out of daily quests and don’t have the requirements to play in limited formats.

The good news is that all of these embrace their digital nature by being more generous in the free/cheap progression than equivalent physical TCGs that have to pay for printing and distribution costs for all their cards. Free starters are the norm, along with a decent trickle of new cards through various mechanisms. You should have no problem getting enough of a taste of any of them to figure out if they appeal to you before putting any money in

Hearthstone: Probably the friendliest to playing on the cheap. It’s relatively easy and free to unlock the core set of minions and class cards, which gives you a decent base with some customization options. Daily quests are easy to complete and give you enough of a trickle of gold for a couple Arena entries per week, or much more if you can get a decent win rate (it’s relatively easy to “go infinite” compared to other games’ limited formats). So you should have a decent rate of picking up new cards, and decks made with mostly commons can still be pretty viable at lower ranks. And the crafting system lets you fill in any missing singles over time.

Hex: Everyone gets a starter deck on account registration, and the entire PvE side of things is planned to be free. Playing draft will cost $7 (3 packs + $1 entry fee) since you keep the cards you draft, and doing well lets you win packs to open or defray future draft entries. Constructed PvP is likely to be moderately expensive if you want to put together the most popular decks, but there will be an auction house – in all likelihood if you avoid the most popular rares you’ll be able to pick up the singles for a decently competitive deck for much cheaper than buying lots of packs.

SolForge: This one’s a bit of a mixed bag. It’s very generous with daily rewards, granting a steady flow of basic boosters just for logging in and winning three games (if you’re struggling or pressed for time, bot battles count). And winning one online game per day gives you a tournament ticket, which is enough for a draft per week (or more often if you win a couple draft games and get some tickets back as prizes). Draft is fun in its own right, and is also a good way to pick up specific cards you need. The downside is that the gap in raw power level between Legendary cards and lower rarities tends to be wider than in other games, and the basic packs have a relatively small chance of giving you one. So it’s easy to accrue a nice, varied collection of the lower rarities, which gives you good deckbuilding options and is fun to play, but you can still get blown out by some of the better Legendaries. Also, after the third win the rewards almost completely dry up.

Infinity Wars: You can get up to a playable collection pretty quickly. Doing the campaigns for each of the factions unlocks a basic set of cards, and you get quite a few cards and boosters just by ranking up and getting easy achievements. The limited format is very cheap to enter with only minor guaranteed prizes, but you can buy the cards you drafted at the end, at prices that are discounted based on the number of wins, but even without a significant discount can still be a better deal than buying boosters. I think they also do the best job of keeping rares nice but not required to compete.

Duel of Champions: Unfortunately, there’s no limited format. There’s a $10 starter pack on Steam that gives a full starter deck for all six factions, which is probably a less frustrating way to get started than grinding away with a single free starter, as you can focus on wherever is receiving the best cards from your boosters. The gold and free boosters look to come thick and fast at first from achievements, leveling, daily quests, and just playing whether you win or lose (and there’s little dropoff so you can keep playing if you want without having the gold dry up). Also check around for promo codes – there were enough for several nice freebies when I started last year. You can get base set 2 boosters at a pretty rapid clip. The latest expansion is only available with real money for the first few weeks after launch, but when starting out, getting lots of base set cards is probably more important anyway. The biggest loss in the new system is that it’s much harder to get wildcards (the system to fill in specific singles) without paying than it used to be.

“Not nearly as polished as Hearthstone” – everybody take a shot!

Seriously, though, agreed with all of that. I played originally early last year before they implemented the wildcard system, but was able to put together a moderately successful run without spending money. I went ahead and bought some of the new expansion since I had gotten enough enjoyment out of the game that I figured it was a good time to do so, but I don’t have a real opinion on how the new economy as a whole will shake out. I hope it works well for them long term, since I do like the game a lot, and I’m finding myself liking it even more this time around. They’ve fixed some obnoxious elements like the inability to use the same card in multiple decks, the inability to get singles to fill in a deck, and the degenerate noninteractive stall/combo decks. And having played a lot of Hearthstone since last playing DoC, the contrasts make me appreciate DoC more. Out of these five games, they’re the two most similar to one another in terms of core mechanics, and for the most part I find DoC to be a superset of Hearthstone, with many aspects being directly parallel but having an additional layer of nuance.

Deckbuilding: Both use a system where choice of hero gives you access to one large exclusive pool of class/faction cards and one large generic pool. DoC varies that with access to 1-3 elemental magic schools per hero that aren’t tied to a faction.

Combat: Both games use a system of one attack at a time in any order, with damage being permanent. DoC adds wrinkles to that by distinguishing between ranged and melee, and separating out retaliation damage as a separate stat from attack damage.

Positional tactics: Hearthstone has a basic concept of positioning in terms of adjacency, DoC has eight spaces in two ranks, gives the ability to move spaces instead of attacking, and makes position important for spell and ability targeting, with the ability to hit rows, columns, or shaped areas of the board.

Resource system: Both have a simple automatic growth of one resource per turn. DoC adds a system of also gaining a level per turn in your choice of Might, Magic, or Fortune, with thresholds required to play cards, as well as having the option to forgo the level-up to draw a card or use a unique hero power.

I missed that one, but have heard enough good things over the years that I wish I hadn’t. I also agree with the wish for a Netrunner version, as I’d love to play that but it’s much harder to schedule in real life.


#18

Faeria is also a good bang for the buck, since you buy the game outright and can gain new cards only by playing. As mentioned previously, it's a bit dead at the moment while they retool the beta, but as I said in the dedicated thread, I really find its mix of TCG and board game tactics compelling. The game mechanics have actually changed quite a lot since their Kickstarter last fall, and I find all the changes for the better. They are also about to introduce one of the last, mystery mechanics: Fate cards.

If anyone in the beta wants to play, PM me to set up a time. Unfortunately, that's the best way to get a game going; hopping on to find a match is pretty much useless at this point. Unless of course you participate in their Meet & Play events (next one is May 9th).


#19

Ugh, the final duel in the advanced academy in Infinity Wars is owning me. :P


#20

That's the one where he starts with Aberion and Pyr for free, right? Yeah, that took me a few tries to get. There are several strategies that can work depending on what cards you have access to. I think I just outraced it with a basic Flame Dawn rush deck, using Stumble and Exhaust to slow down his big guys.